By Kara Mason

Shelf Organizers: The Best Ways to Tidy Your Space


Storing your stuff can be beautiful.

“The essence of effective storage is this: designate a spot for every last thing you own.” — Marie Kondo

When spring rolls around, many of us are compelled to refresh our living spaces, from pantries to closets and everywhere in between. One of the more challenging tasks is tackling shelving. As helpful as shelves can be for home organization, they can become catch-alls for clutter that need tending every once in a while.

If you’re big into home decor, you maybe already know that there are rules governing how to decorate a shelf in your living area: 

  • Arrange in triangles: This is really pleasing to the eye, so try to group things together that resemble a triangle. Add height to really highlight the shape.
  • Group in odd numbers: Another tip that’s pleasing to the eye. Group in items of three or five and vary in size.  
  • Arrange in different heights: This will bring some interest to your shelf and keep the eye moving. An easy way to achieve differing heights is to stack books. Add a picture frame on top to emphasize the art.
  • Use color: Pops of color in your shelf decor look great. Just make sure they compliment each other.

There’s no reason a shelf that keeps things organized can’t be great to look at, too. For other less visible shelving around the house, there are some more practical tips that help you to efficiently use that space too.

Before you dive into organizing a shelving unit, it’s a good idea to remove everything and start with a clean slate. This method is a favorite of Marie Kondo, tidiness guru and author of the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She says it will help you see the space more clearly, and helps you to decide which items to keep and which items to get rid of.

Whether you're installing new shelves or breathing new life into formerly chaotic, cluttered shelves, the shelf organization tips will help you keep these spaces both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Combine similar items 

Whether it’s spices in your pantry, socks in your closet, or books in your office, the most effective shelf organizers know that it’s best to combine items by their likeness. After all, it makes the most sense. You wouldn't put half your bowls in one cupboard and the other half in another. 

The same principle applies to most of your shelf storage, no matter where it happens to be in your home or office. 

For bookshelves, try sorting books by genre, author or even color — whatever makes most sense to you. Avid readers might want to sort by favorites and most-visited, but a shelf that airs on the side of aesthetics might benefit from organization by color.

“I’m more likely to remember what a book looked like than to remember who wrote the book,” author and journalist Jen Ashley Wright told O Magazine on why she chose to organize by color. “I cannot for the life of me remember who wrote ‘My Friend Anna,’ but I know it was pink.”

In closets, you may decide sorting by material, season, or color is best. Whatever method you decide, stick to it consistently.

And if you find that’s hard to do, it might not be the best way to organize for you. It’s okay to experiment with your organizational style if you’re not sure! But to avoid creating too much extra work, take some time to think about what kinds of items you’re most likely to reach for wherever your shelving is. Easy access is the key.

Avoid clutter before it starts 

Whether you’re focusing on shelving in your kitchen or in your office, you’ve probably noticed that they can become dumping grounds for odds and ends: keys, pocket change, snacks. Small additions can really clear that space and help you stay organized.

An easy way to avoid that small build-up of clutter is by making space for a catch-all dish. In your kitchen, that could be great for mints, leftover condiment packets, toothpicks or all of the above. In an office, a catch all dish will nicely house rouge office supplies.

Cord keepers can also be a big help for any electronics you might have on a shelf. It keeps the space looking tidy and while keeping the tangle away.

Labeled bins are probably on your list for shelving storage. They keep similar items contained, and you have a lot of options. A clear bin can help you easily find items while a more stylish bin or basket can become part of your decor. 

Keep your items visible 

No matter how you decide to organize, make sure you keep things as visible as possible. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to hide clutter, but you don’t always have to do it in such an obvious way. Labeling bins or the shelf itself for where items go helps you to know where you’ve filed stuff away. 

In closets in particular this can be so important. Shoes or accessories that are too hidden are often forgotten. Coats that are shoved to the back never get worn. Having a visual on them can ensure that you remember them and you get the most out of your items.

Plan to adapt

We call our homes “living spaces” for a reason. They aren’t static and they have this ability to change with us. Sometimes, of course, that means that when we’re busy or rushed our homes become that way too. 

The best way to avoid that is to create adaptable spaces, that way you save yourself some time and effort. For the most part, this means accessible. If you’re constantly reaching for spices on your kitchen shelf, don’t put them in the back where you have to really reach for them. That mindfulness will make things much easier later on.